Covering protests properly is important for journalists to present a real account of what the students actually think and how they behave. They are the tools for effective empowerment of a disgruntled section of the society.
In every University campus in the world, there have been agitations and instances of conflict between students and the people in power— whether they are teachers, student leaders or the administration. Sparks of dissent arise from such conflicts. Sometimes, these sparks also arise from everyday conversations among students. For instance, what happened in JNU in 2016 was an instance of conversations leading to protests.
Protests are perhaps the most spontaneous form of political action that would take place. Not surprisingly in the so-called liberal, freethinking, modern campuses of Indian education system, protests seem to become the norm and not the aberration. For better or for worse, these protests empower students to show their dissent, ideas, frustration, and their power. The protests also teach important lessons in organisation, mobilisation, symbolism, use of rhetoric and actual politics to the students. At an age when we are constantly evolving, the power of collective action, through protests, can be very stimulating for young minds. At the heart of their inception, therefore, protests represent battles fought everyday— between the all-powerful and the less powerful; the privileged and the dispossessed; the adulated and the marginalised. They are the quickest and best way to gauge the pulse of the youth.
So, is it any wonder that in DU Beat we cover protests diligently and doggedly? As a student journalist who has been to several protests, I can honestly say that it remains the most exciting part of the job. The interactions between students, teachers, police and the often unhelpful (seldom benevolent) University staff provide unique glimpses into the status quo. When these protests turn violent, it becomes all the more incumbent upon us to draw out the truth and find out what really happened. Providing an unbiased account of the ground reality has to be the aim of a good journalist.
Therefore, covering protests right— and not necessarily participating in them— become all the more important. In fact, it is almost unethical to be a part of protests which you are covering. Although it is true that journalism is hardly unbiased and journalists, like any other people, are political beings, some ground rules do apply on the field. For instance, I never indulge in sloganeering when I attend a protest I intend to cover. I try to talk to almost all the parties involved in the protest: the protesters, the opposition, the police and the officials. In fact, in one of the protests I covered one person asked me why I kept on sitting and clicking pictures for hours without uttering a single word. Did I not believe in the cause? My answer was that it was because I believe in the cause I cannot be seen to be biased when I report on it. My personal opinions can, in no way, clash with my professional practice.
However, what journalists in the country often succumb to is a false sense of objectivity. In pursuing a so-called “impartial” narrative, they often fall trap to a he-said/she-said view of events which leaves the reader more confused than ever. The primary goal of journalists has to be to uncover the truth, no matter the consequences, and present it in the best way possible.
In this vein, protests remain one of the most challenging aspects of the profession we are involved in. Its fast-paced nature, its unpredictability, the manifestations of power relations, which are themselves very fragile, the slogans that pulsate through the air— these are some of the reasons that will draw me to my cause of covering protests every single time.
Feature Image Credits: DU Beat
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